For my first attempt at fiberglassing something non-mechanical, I chose a simple female torso with no arms, lower legs, or head. My plan was to construct a sand mold in a horizontal position on my workbench, apply a release agent, and then cover with a thin layer of fiberglass. I added a little stucco mix to the sand to keep the mold from crumbling as I worked it.
I started with the back for simplicity’s sake, half expecting to lose interest about midway through due to lack of any basic artistic ability. But I’d apparently seen enough examples of this particular perspective on the beaches of San Diego to where I actually surprised myself.
I painted the sand mold with some leftover water-soluble latex paint to serve as the release agent (so the fiberglass would not adhere to the sand), and then began laying up the fiberglass cloth about three layers deep to form a reasonably rigid skin. Once the resin cured, I lifted this body shell off the sand mold and soaked it overnight in the bathtub to dissolve the latex paint and any embedded sand. This made a huge mess, but being newly divorced, I considered it but another means of marking territory, and intentionally left the residue in the tub for over a month to emphasize the point. Not that anyone ever saw it and became impressed.
I took this fiberglass shell and inverted it in a horizontal position to serve as a support vessel for more sand, which I then shaped into a reasonable rendering of the front half of the torso. This approach ensured the two torso halves would align along their respective perimeters to form a whole. After glassing the front surface mold and then removing the sand and paint residue, I joined the front and back shells to form the preliminary hollow structure of my envisioned sculpture. Unfortunately it was ram-rod straight, since I’d laid the sand molds out on a flat work surface. So I simply sawed it in half along the waistline (see cut line above), and put it back together with the spine more naturally arched. Fiberglass is very forgiving in this respect, which helps compensate for my decided lack of artistic talent.
The other problem I noticed was the legs were set apart in what came across more as a defensive football stance, as opposed to the more graceful feminine pose I’d had in mind. So I cut a wedge out of the right thigh and tilted the leg inward to achieve the desired effect.
At this point the detail sculpting begins, grinding away material where there’s too much, and adding filler (Bondo ® automotive body putty) where there’s too little. I hired my first model (a Hooter’s waitress) to assist in getting the subtleties (i.e., belly button, shoulder blades, ribs, collar bone structure) correct. It seemed the things that I thought would be easy, like abdominal muscle tone, turned out to be harder, and vice versa. But I was surprised as well as encouraged by how nicely the project was shaping up. So to speak…
The next step involves spraying the near-finished piece with automotive primer to help bring out the minor surface defects, like pinhole air pockets, which are then touched up with spot filler. The uniform surface finish also makes it easier to judge the flow of the piece, and make adjustments as needed.
At this stage I closed off the arm and neck openings and added a support base for mounting on a pedestal, then repeatedly wet sanded and reprimed the entire exterior surface until it was blemish free. The opaque primer acts as a sealant, helps fill sand-paper scratches, and also serves to protect the fiberglass composite from exposure to damaging ultraviolet rays from the sun in outdoor settings.
The piece is next plated with a copper-particle suspension in an acrylic base, which is just brushed on and allowed to air dry. I usually do it in three to four successive applications to prevent runs and sags.
The finished piece, shown here from the rear, can then be acid washed if desired to achieve the corroded-copper verdigris effect for garden display. But my best friend Lisa, who was the model in the final detail stages, talked me into leaving the piece as is for now, on a pedestal in my living room. I’ll probably acid wash it and move it outdoors once I complete one of the other follow-on sculptures currently in progress.
Update January 2018: I finally got around to acid washing this piece and moving it outdoors, set on a concrete foundation in my back yard.